Immigration Reform, From the Other Side. Part 2

I recently started writing about immigration from the perspective of a family trying to comply: ours.  If you've not read the first article, I'd recomend reading it before this one:

After people are aware that Pam has had some difficulties with her immigration journey, going back to when we were first married several years ago, the next question they usually ask is, "so you're done now, she's a citizen?"  After we tell them no, she's very close to that, but not there yet, they inevitably follow up with, "why doesn't she just do it?"  This is the question that I think is stuck in so many American's heads: "Why don't immigrants just 'do it', and get their paperwork in order."  If only people knew how many days, nights, and weeks we have cried out in anguish wanting to do just that!

Every person's case is different, but I'll outline Pamela's steps here, so you can get an idea of what a typical situation might be like.  An entire family, someone with a DUI or any other criminal charge, or someone with a U.S. sponsor who had only a minimum wage job, would all be much harder than Pam's case.  Other cases might be easier, such as a long-term job (8+ years in the U.S.) with a company that is experienced in international employment issues.  Frankly, we've spent so much time trying to decipher the expectations around our own situation, that any other situation would be a steep learning curve for us.  It should be noted that each of these steps carries with it a hefty application fee(some in the several thousands of dollars), applications that make IRS forms looks straight-forward, and little assurance that they are correct until a response is received several months after submitting.  

One Path Towards Citizenship
Step 1.  Student Visa.  As I've written before, Pam first came to the United States on a student visa (I'm leaving off the actual alpha-numeric visa codes here and using the colloquial terms, because I don't want to talk about the specifics of immigration law, or portend to write a "how-to.")  It was pretty straightforward, as most colleges and universities have offices well-versed in the process.

Step 2.  Professional Work Visa.  After her studies, Pamela was recruited to work in the U.S., and so obtained a professional work visa to do so.  One of the really tough things about this type of visa is that it is tightly tied to the employer.  Unlike popular culture tells us, people usually don't roam from job to job with a work visa in hand.  In reality, they have a work visa tied to a specific employer, with recording requirements from the employer around that visa.  In Pam's case, that job, and thus that visa, ended, and she next obtained a spousal visa.

Step 3.  Spousal Visa.  The spousal visa, of course, requires a spouse, but more than just a wedding ring and a piece of paper.  In our case, we prepared scrapbooks showing us together in several situations as an engaged legitimate couple.  I was also require to submit a detailed affidavit of support.  This affidavit is several pages long, and was an important part of the process.  In it, we agreed that Pamela would be ineligble for any state or federal assistance, and that I could and would entirely support her, without her working, in any case that might arise.  More people should be aware of these important distinctions.  Far from being a burden on the system, Pam was totally ineligible for any from of assistance, and the spousal visa did not allow for her to earn an income to support herself while here on that visa.  As you can imagine, those were not easy years.  We were newlyweds living on a single income where one person legally couldn't work  If you know my wife, it's easy to see that it was a huge adjustment for super-outgoing-overachieving Pam not to be out in the world every day.  I won't lie, getting married and drastically cutting back the budget for dates and other frivolities isn't much fun either.  I hope I don't sounds like I'm complaining here, but I do think that it's important for Americans to realize that immigrants and their families make real, tangible sacrifices.  I'm not even saying that I disagree with those sacrifices, but the stereotype of immigrants reaping the rewards of being in the U.S., without making sacrifice is simply not true.

Step 4.  Permanent Residency  After a couple of years on a spousal visa, Pamela obtained permanent residency.  Because Pam is a Canadian, her final interviews were in the U.S. Embassy in Montreal.  We traveled there together, with my parents, knowing that if it went poorly, Pam would leave the embassy and move back to her parents home in Canada, and I would come back to the States with my folks.  In fact, we were so nervous about it, that we never told her family how prepared we were for that case, or that my parents went along to help with that transition, should it have happened!  Thankfully, the interviews went well and she was granted Permanent Residency.  This allows her to work, and to travel across borders much easier than any of the others before.  Frankly, permanent residency feels almost like citizenship some days.  We still have to report address changes, if our marital status were to change(it won't!), and Pam can't vote.

The Future: Citizenship.  It's not clear to most Americans that Citizenship is a slow road.  Pam has recently passed the 8 year mark of uninterrupted, legal residency in the U.S.  That was a big milestone for us, as it is a requirement for citizenship.  Now, all that's left is to study for the big test, register and pay the fee, and plan a big party.  If all goes well, we'd like to see that happen in the next year or so.

What we want you to know.  We're hoping that by sharing this, our friends, family, neighbors, and even a few strangers, will understand a little more about U.S. immigration than they did before.  We DON'T want to whine or complain, but we do want to get people thinking more about the issue from the other side.  Whenever people ask what needs to change from our perspective, we are quick to answer, "a clear path to citizenship."  That's it.  Make it clear and simple what a person should do, then deal with how to handle people that choose not to comply.

We're also making very sure that both of our children will be recognized as Canadian citizens as well.  It's not a political statement of any kind, but we do want to make sure that they can work, play, love, and learn on both sides of the border, with less worry than their mom has had.

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